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Why Racism is Wrong


(The Need to Dismantle Structures of Racism in the Church)
[Article Excerpted from Author’s Must We Be Silent?]
By Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhD

When Christians who claim to be saved by grace choose to live by race, they are essentially embracing a form of legalism. They depend on their race, rather than on our Lord Jesus Christ, to save them. This is no different from the legalism adopted by believers in the Galatian Church. The apostle Paul raised this issue when he demanded to know why the Galatian believers, having begun in the Spirit, were seeking to live by the works of the (flesh) law (Galatians 3:2, 3).

According to Paul, such an effort on the part of believers is tantamount to "seeking to be justified by the law"—instead of by grace (Gal 5:4). He referred to their action as a perversion of and departure from the gospel (Gal 1:6, 7) and from Christ (5:4). He argued that those "bewitched" by this "folly" were in bondage and under a curse. Paul's goal in the epistle to the Galatians was not only to show the incompatibility of being saved by grace and at the same time living by the works of the law, but also to emphasize the fact that there is an ethical dimension to the gospel of grace.

We should not miss the analogy. Christians respond, all too often, to issues of racism only when the sociopolitical realities force them to do so. Even then, instead of living by the moral imperatives of the gospel, those who claim to be saved by grace tend to depend and live by the (secular) law—affirmative action, threats of economic sanctions, protests, etc.—as the sole basis for their ethical conduct.

This chapter will build on the previous chapter’s discussion of racism as a religion. We shall attempt to show that racism violates God’s Moral Law, contradicts the teaching and practice of Jesus Christ, hinders Christ’s Gospel commission, and raises barriers to unity among believers.

Racism Violates the Ten Commandments

God has given to us His Moral Law, the Ten Commandments, to guide us on decisions of right and wrong (1 John 3:4) This Law is a transcript of God’s perfect character as exemplified in the life and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. Given the fact that the teachings of racism’s religion compete against the teachings of the Bible, it should come as no surprise that racism breaches each single one of the Ten Commandments: [1]

(1) Racism nullifies the first commandment, because it substitutes race for God as the organizing center of life.

(2) Racism overturns the second commandment, because it turns the face of a particular race into a graven image, then bows down and worships “the likeness” of what is “in the earth beneath.”

(3) Racism profanes the third commandment's prohibition against taking God's name in vain when the Christian who is a racist piously cries “Lord, Lord,” but does not do the will of God by showing the love of God—which is value blind, creed blind, color-blind—to his neighbor (cf. Matt 7:21-23).

(4) Racism desecrates the fourth commandment in that on the Sabbath, instead of bringing Christians together because of their common faith, it keeps them apart despite the common faith.

(5) Racism disrespects the fifth commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother,” because it defines kinship in terms of blood rather than faith (cf. Matt 12:48-50).

(6) Racism destroys the sixth commandment not only because the racist literally kills the despised race, but also because the derogatory words of the racist “can be just as murderous as the sword or bomb in the hands of a maniac” (cf. Matt 5:21-22).

(7) Racism annuls the seventh commandment, because among other things, it equates adultery with adulteration of blood.

(8) Racism breaks the eighth commandment, in that it robs the inferior race of equal access to opportunities and respect and dignity due them as human beings;

(9) Racism abrogates the ninth commandment, in that it bears false witness about both races by ascribing the undeserved advantages of the superior race to extraneous considerations (such as his industry, superior intelligence, moral rectitude, etc.), while the denial of basic rights to the despised race is justified on the grounds that he is lazy, unintelligent, or immoral. [2]

(10) Racism encroaches upon the tenth commandment, by making one race covet what truly belongs to the despised race.

Even if the practice of racism undermined only one of the Ten Commandments, racism would still be guilty of breaking all. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). And as Jesus Himself said, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:18-19).

Racism Contradicts the Teachings and Practice of Jesus

Jesus' earthly life and teaching also refuted the ethics of racism. The story of the Syrophoenician woman is a classic example of how Jesus viewed the morality of racial prejudice and bigotry. In the form of an acted parable, Jesus portrayed to His followers the unchristian manner in which they (the Jewish people) had often treated people of other ethnic and racial backgrounds. He thereby sought to teach them the compassionate manner in which they ought to deal with the despised race.

In this dramatized account (Matt 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30), Jesus actually acted out the way Jewish people tended to act towards non-Jews. Let’s observe a few things.

First, there was a desperate need (the woman's child needed help). Yet, those who were in a position to help chose to be apathetic to the need and therefore ignored the woman ("Jesus did not answer a word,"Matt 15: 23).

Second, when His closest associates could no longer pretend the need was not there, they pressured Jesus to refuse the needed help. The reason was that it was inconvenient ("she keeps crying after us," the disciples said; v. 23). Here is illustrated how pressure is often applied so that we conform to ambient expectations, and show an unwillingness to go against popular opinion and practice.

Third, there was a shift of the responsibility to others. Notice in verse 24 that when Jesus finally felt compelled to do something about it, He indicated that the specific need of the woman could only be met by someone else. "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel," Christ said. The implication was that, He could only offer help to the superior “in-race.”

Fourth, He justified His reason for denying the help by first labeling the woman as a dog and then rationalizing that it was not appropriate to give what is due to humans to a subhuman (dog; v. 26).

In this acted parable, Jesus not only confronted the national and religious pride that had developed as a result of Israel's status as a favored people, but He also condemned the resulting racial and religious prejudice and bigotry—the contempt and heartless treatment of other races, as well as the polarization of groups into Greeks and Barbarians, Jews and Samaritans, and Jews and Gentiles. Christ dramatized how prejudice leads to the devaluing of others, breeding “in-group” favoritism, and sanctioning discrimination against the “out-group.”

Speaking about the “wider purpose” of Christ's dealing with the Syrophoenician woman, Ellen White suggests that, by His life and teaching (cf. Matt 15:21-28; Luke 15:1, 2; John 4), Christ sought to instruct His “slow to learn” followers that not only was His love “not to be circumscribed to race or nation,” but He demonstrated that any form of caste—“distinction of age, or rank, or nationality, or religious privilege”—“is hateful to God” (The Desire of Ages, 402, 403).

Beyond passing a negative judgment on racism, Jesus “laid the foundation” for a completely different religion “by which Jew and Gentile, black and white, free and bond, are linked together in one common brotherhood, recognized as equal in the sight of God” (Testimonies for the Church, 7:225)."

No distinction on account of nationality, race, or caste is recognized by God. He is the Maker of all mankind. All men are of one family by creation, and all are one through redemption. Christ came to demolish every wall of partition, to throw open every compartment of the temple, that every soul may have free access to God. His love is so broad, so deep, so full, that it penetrates everywhere" (Christ's Object Lessons, 386).

Racism Hinders the Gospel Commission

Racism obstructs Christ’s Gospel commission. When He commissioned His followers to be His witnesses “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8), Jesus embraced all races as objects of salvation.

Christ deliberately included the phrase “and Samaria” [3] because of all the racial conflicts in His day. The Jewish-Samaritan problem was probably “the most acute racial, national, and religious conflict of His [Christ's] day.” By thus commissioning them, “Jesus intended to challenge the strongest prejudice of His followers of that day.” [4]

The racial animosity between Jews and Samaritans is comparable, to no small extent “in its depth and viciousness” to the racial conflict between Blacks and whites in the United States. Let’s point to some parallels. [5]

(1) In both instances, racial division is manifested in a "We-You" relationship. Thus, the Jews proclaimed in John 8:33, "we are descendants of Abraham," and charged Jesus (and hence, anyone who did not agree with them), "you are a Samaritan" (John 8:33, 48, RSV). In this "we-you" relationship, the Jews saw themselves as the favored race, and the Samaritans as the unfavored race (an incipient superior/inferior race dichotomy).

(2) Like the black-white racism in our day, the cause of this racial prejudice had some historical basis (cultural, religious, political, economic—2 Kngs 17:24; Ezra 4, Neh 13:28).

(3) Because of the racial prejudice, "Jews have no dealings with Samaritans" (John 4:9, RSV). In this kind of racial segregation, Jews had a difficult time associating with, offering and accepting food and drink from Samaritans, and even rendering helping hands to wounded persons of the opposite race—as the story of the good Samaritan suggests (cf. Luke 10:25-37; 17:11-18).

(4) Just as we demonize other races, for the Jews, Samaritans were the embodiment of evil; thus, the religious leaders told Jesus: "You are a Samaritan and have a demon" (John 8:48, RSV). Even the disciples of Christ were not totally free from this racial prejudice. On one occasion James and John asked Jesus to call fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans.

(5) But the racial prejudice of Jews against Samaritans was not entirely one-sided. The Samaritans also were prejudiced against the Jews. This is reflected in the statement of the Samaritan woman at the well, when she asked Christ: "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria" (John 4:9, RSV).

This reverse racism on the part of the Samaritans was equally as sinful and deadly as that perpetrated by those on the other side. It led to the creation of a myth of spiritual superiority in which, for example, Samaritans considered their form of worship to be superior to all others (John 4:20), a view that may have contributed to their initial rejection of Jesus (Luke 9:52, 53).

It is a matter of passing interest that the Samaritans’ superior form of worship style (which was one of their arguments for worshiping on the mountain) played no role in the conversion of people in one Samaritan village. They later said to the woman who met Jesus at the well: “Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him [Christ] ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ and the Savior” (John 4:42).

Racism hinders the Gospel commission as long as we hold on to our Samarias, or areas of prejudice. Christ’s message of “and Samaria” (Acts 1:8) suggests that there are no national or racial lines in Christ’s Commission. We must leave our race based mountains (communities, churches and Conferences) and cross over the border to Samaria. As long as we keep referring to our unique worship styles as a reason for our racial churches and Conferences, we obstruct the Gospel commission to “go into all the world” (Matt 28:18-20). What really matters is knowing Christ and worshiping “the Father in spirit and in truth” (v. 23).

Heeding Christ’s “and Samaria” commission means that we must “move beyond that which is expedient to that which is morally right. Racially oriented evangelism can produce racially insensitive and even racially prejudiced congregations.” [6] But more importantly, it is disobedience to the One who has asked us to preach the everlasting gospel “unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people . . . and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Rev 14:6-7).

Racism Raises Barriers to Unity

Racism’s doctrine of race-based separateness raises a hindrance to the unity Christ prayed for. We must understand that John 17 records Christ’s most sublime prayer for the church. It captures His last words of instruction to his apostles before His crucifixion. Within less than twenty-four hours, He would be killed. Thus, in this prayer Christ reveals His innermost thought.

Without doubt, His chief concern was for unity. At least five times He prayed for His followers that “they may be one, as we are” (v. 11), “that they all be one” (v. 21a), “that they also may be one in us” (v. 21b), “that they may be one, even as we are one” (v. 22), and “that they may be made perfect in one” (v.23).

But the unity of the church for which Christ prayed was not primarily that we may be one with each other. It was not simply the integration or fellowship of believers from different ethnic groups. As Evangelical scholar John Stott has shown, the unity for which Christ prayed is first, a unity with the apostle’s teaching. This is evident in verse 20 where He alludes to two groups of believers. The RSV designates them as “these” (i.e., the apostles) and “those” (i.e., all subsequent believers). “It seems beyond question that the ‘all’ of verse 21, whose unity Christ desires, are a combination of ‘these’ and ‘those’.” [7]

In other words, the church unity Christ wants to see in His church is one that is in harmony with the teachings of Christ’s inspired apostles. Like the apostolic church, believers in God’s end-time church must “devote them to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship” (Acts 2:42). But as we have shown in the preceding chapter, the teaching of racism is contrary to the Bible. To the extent that this is the case, racism is a barrier to Christ’s prayer for unity. Any ideology–gay theology, feminist egalitarian theology, racism, higher criticism–that is not in harmony with God’s teaching is a hindrance to Christ’s prayer.

But in addition to the unity with the apostles, Christ also prayed “that they also may be one in us” (John 17:.21b). This is a unity with the Father and the Son. It ensures that at all times the church lives in harmony with the leading of the life-giving Spirit whom the Father and Christ will send (John 14:15, 26;15:26; 16:7). Unity with the Father and Son means we shall accept the correction of the Spirit and His guidance into all truth (16:8-13). This includes the Spirit’s leading through God’s end-time gift of prophecy (Rev 12:17; 19:10).

Only as Christ followers are “in us” (i.e., with the Father and Son) can they truly “be one” among themselves (v. 21a). In other words, the horizontal unity (among Christ’s followers) must be grounded in a vertical unity (oneness with Christ). We seek unity on this basis so that “the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (v. 21). Jesus declares: “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (v. 23).

In other words, a visible unity results when Christ followers are in harmony with the apostles and with the Father and Son. This unity is readily evident to the world. It is not limited to a doctrinal or “invisible” unity. This visible unity convinces the world of the truthfulness of the Christian message. It demonstrates that the grace of Christ can triumph over the divisions of race. Conversely, racism’s attempt to separate people according to their ethnic groups nullifies Christ’s desire to see a visible unity in the church.

Writes Ellen White: “There is no person, no nation, that is perfect in every habit and thought. One must learn of another. Therefore God wants the different nationalities to mingle together, to be one in judgment, one in purpose. Then the union that there is in Christ will be exemplified (SDA Bible Commentary, 2:1029).

The visible unity that God expects to see in His church applies also to the structures of our organizations–our Conferences, Unions, and Divisions. In fact, in 1905, Ellen G. White wrote against proposals to organize conferences on the basis of nationality. She quoted John 17:17-21, stating that the segregation of Conferences along lines of nationality was out of harmony with Christ’s prayer for unity. She wrote:

Some of our ministers have written to me, asking if the work among the Germans and Scandinavians should not be carried forward under separate organizations. This matter has been presented to me several times. When I was in College View, the Lord gave me a straight testimony to bear, and since that time the matter has been presented to me again.. . . . According to the light given me of God, separate organizations, instead of bringing about unity, will create discord. If our brethren will seek the Lord together in humility of mind, those who now think it necessary to organize separate German and Scandinavian conferences will see that the Lord desires them to work together as brethren.. . . . If we are to carry on the work most successfully, the talents to be found among the English and Americans should be united with the talents of those of every other nationality. And each nationality should labor earnestly for every other nationality. There is but one Lord, one faith. Our effort should be to answer Christ's prayer for His disciples, that they should be one (Testimonies for the Church, 9:195-196; emphasis mine).

Racism is incompatible with the desire of Christ to see not just doctrinal unity, but also visible unity in all expressions of the church’s life. Christianity wants believers to “work together as brethren,” but racism wants to separate them. Christianity teaches that “There is no person, no nation, that is perfect in every habit and thought. One must learn of another. Therefore God wants the different nationalities to mingle together, to be one in judgment, one in purpose. Then the union that there is in Christ will be exemplified (SDA Bible Commentary, 2:1029). But racism’s morality of pride and contempt for other races teaches that only the superior race is wise enough, understanding enough, capable enough, and experienced enough to work for its race.


In the previous chapter we showed that the beliefs of racism are incompatible with those of biblical Christianity. In this chapter we have attempted to show that racism’s practice is at odds with Christianity. Racism is wrong because it violates God’s moral law, contradicts the teaching and practice of Jesus Christ, hinders Christ’s Gospel commission, and raises barriers to the doctrinal and visible unity among believers.

We understate our judgment on racism when we simply state that “racism is sinful.” [8] One Christian author underscores the seriousness of racial sin when he argues that it is a “heresy.” [9]The Jewish scholar, Abraham J. Heschel, goes even farther in his evaluation. He insists that racism is “worse than idolatry,” it is “satanism,” an “unmitigated evil,” “a treacherous denial of the existence of God” and “blasphemy.” [10]

The 1985 General Conference session in New Orleans, Louisiana, was correct in its denunciation of racism. With reference to human societies, racism is, indeed, “one of the odious evils of our day.” As far as morality is concerned, racism is “a sin.” And as judged by the Christian faith, racism is “a heresy and in essence a form of idolatry.” [11]

One prominent Seventh-day Adventist church leader in North America has recently echoed the above sentiments:

In spiritual and biblical terms, racism is a perverse sin that cuts to the very core of the gospel message. Racism is demonic. Racism negates the reason for which Christ died–the reconciling work of the cross. Racism is at the core of sin. It is a lack of trust in God and a denial of His transforming grace. The devil has used racism as a primary tool to divide not only nations but the Christian church as well. Racism denies the mission and purpose the church, which is to bring together, in Christ, those who have been divided from one another, to remove the middle wall of partition–Jew and Gentile–a division based on race. [12]

Given the heinousness of racism, it is quite puzzling, if not unpardonable, that very little is being done to eradicate its visible expression in our church. For example, instead of dismantling the racially separate conferences in the Adventist church in North America, some are still justifying these structures of racism. The next two chapters will candidly respond to the arguments often employed in their defense, showing why the church ought to do the right thing on this question of black and white conferences in the North American Division.


[1] Everett Tilson, "Segregation and the Ten Commandments," in Alfred T. Davies, The Pulpit Speaks on Race (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1965), 96-103.

[2] For example, if the Black person lives in a slum, he "is charged not with poverty, but laziness. If he works in a kitchen the reason is not discrimination, but limitation. If he fails as an engineer the reason is not lack of education, but a shortage of intelligence. If he goes to jail the reason is not environment, but heredity" (ibid., 102-103).

[3] With respect to the despised Samaritans, when Jesus first sent out the twelve, He specifically forbade them to preach to the Gentiles—particularly the Samaritans (Matt 10:5)—apparently because He knew that His followers were not adequately prepared at this time "to preach the gospel, or to do good works, either among Samaritans or Gentiles. Their hearts were too narrow, their prejudices too strong: there was too much of the [unconverted] Jew, too little of the Christian, in their character." (See A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve [New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc., 1929], 101). But after His resurrection and shortly before His ascension, Jesus made it clear that the barriers of race must be overcome as they preached to all the world, including Samaria.

[4] Maston, The Bible and Race, 58, 62.

[5] Ibid., 58; 53-67.

[6] Williams, “The Right Thing To Do,” 25.

[7] John R.W. Stott, Christ the Liberator (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity, 1946), 82.

[8] Seventh-day Adventist Minister's Manual, 53.

[9] Will D. Campbell, Race and the Renewal of the Church (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1962), 13.

[10] Abraham J. Heschel, "The Religious Basis of Equality of Opportunity—The Segregation of God," in Matthew Ahmann, ed., Race: Challenge to Religion (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1963), 56.

[11] “GC President Issues Statements on Racism, Peace, Home and Family, and Drugs,” Adventist Review, June 30, 1985, 2-3.

[12] Harold L. Lee, Church Leadership in a Multicultural World: Directions for Cultural Harmony in the Adventist Church (Lincoln, Nebraska: Center for Creative Ministry, 2000), p. 14.